My last item on the agenda was titled simply: “Discussion Relating to City-Owned Land Between Fire Station and Public Library - Member Michlig.”
Call it a challenge. Call it a symbol. Call it tilting at windmills.
Franklin has never had any sort of “downtown”; in fact, city leaders have long disagreed on where the “city center” is. The strip mall intersection at Rawson and 76th? The new Shoppes at Wyndham Village? Sendik’s and long-languishing Fountains of Franklin at Rawson and 51st?
In truth, the only real -- and well-used, by the way -- public space in Franklin is the Public Library. It’s next to a public park, which in turn is next to a subdivision that has paths connecting it to the large play areas, tennis courts and shelters. Rental housing and apartment buildings stand on the other park border, and City Hall is in the same area. Senior apartments are only a few yards south. It’s a unique multi-purpose area in town. I’ve blogged before about the incredible amount of available space in this area -- the library is surrounded by a huge lawn, for instance.
So what’s missing? Despite the presence of residential (owners and renters, young and old), municipal (library, city hall, police station) and park zones, a piece is badly needed.
As it happens, the city recently bought a house that sits between the library and the firehouse. The property is on a corner, separated from the library by a street and the residential areas by the park. Because of asbestos contamination, the whole structure will be removed, leaving an empty parcel of land.
Here is a short sketch of the proposal/challenge/Quixotic quest I described to the EDC:
The city of Franklin, along with partners that will become apparent, builds on the site where the residence once was a COFFEE SHOP and CO-WORKING SPACE. Two stories, built right up to the sidewalk (no setback) on two sides (no drive-thru), with a courtyard in back that segues into the park - a beautiful public space that sits at the intersection of the library and the park that residential neighborhoods can easily access on foot.
The missing piece!
Following a model established at the Blatz building in Milwaukee, where Milwaukee School of Engineering students run the building’s cafe, the city partners with Milwaukee Area Technical College; the students, as part of MATC curriculum, run the coffee shop, handling everything from accounting to grinding beans. Franklin High School can also be involved, as students can work there for credit.
Want to learn business? Run a business!
Want to encourage wonderful public space around a commercial amenity? Build an example for others to follow!
Corporate sponsorship is not at all out of the question: OfficeMax, FedEx/Kinkos, Starbucks, Dunn Bros., Starbucks, Northwestern Mutual Foundation, etc. A community/educational/economic development effort like this is something great to be associated with.
- The project acts as a "development laboratory," wherein the city can show by example what sort of development we'd like to see. Along the way, we'll also learn a lot about flaws in the developer-city process and relationship that we can address as they appear.
- In tough economic times, planning and building a community asset like this acts as a potent symbol of our confidence in Franklin. Why should we expect business to take root here if we're not willing to do it ourselves as well?
- At long last, a vibrant, multi-use city center will begin to emerge.
- The facility is an educational asset to MATC and Franklin High School.
- The project will bring together the talents and passions of the community: local craftsmen and contractors pitching in; creative minds devising site plans and architecture; business leaders donating assets and money; etc.
- Open space adjacent to the cafe can be used for, among other events, monthly or bi-monthly Farmers' Markets coordinated with market events held in St. Martins.
- Franklin will at last have a "third place" for people to lounge, work, surf the net, read and meet. No more driving to Borders and Barnes & Noble in Greenfield.
- The co-working facilities -- both paid-by-the-month space and free work areas -- will be desirable to the growing corps of "free agents," newly freelance, and mobile workers.
- It'll be a great stop for residents of Waterford and Burlington on their way to and from the freeway.
As they advise in vaudeville, go out on a high note.
After facing blank stares (and worse) earlier in meeting while talking about complete streets, smart growth, and preparing for transit (see part 1 and part 2), this idea seemed to resonate with everyone in the room.
So it's off to the Common Council to get authorization for a subcommittee to pursue the idea.
I'll call it a happy ending. For now.